Interfaith Alliance | 19-20 November 2018 | Abu Dhabi, UAE
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The Risks to Children in the Digital Age

November 19 2018

The first panel discussion of the Interfaith Alliance Conference titled ‘The Risks to Children in the Digital Age’ got underway on Monday. Participating delegates included: Dr. Mustafa Y Ali, Secretary-General, Global Network of Religions for Children; Maud de Boer Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children; Cornelius Williams, Associate Director and Head of Child Protection, UNICEF; Robbert Van Den Berg, Executive Director, ECPAT International; Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer, Microsoft and Selim J. Edde, Head of Public Policy and Government Relations, MENA – Google.

The panellists introduced their extensive experience, be it from working in either the technology sector or in charity and governmental organisations which focus on the eradication of child abuse online. Jacqueline Beauchere was able to reveal insights from Microsoft’s research into Online Child Abuse, sharing with the conference that 71% of internet users had reported being exposed to some form of online abuse, and 79% of teens reported some level of pain associated with being exposed to online abuse. Selim J. Edde argued that in the wake of such worrying trends, organisations needed to increase digital literacy amongst children and teenagers, and ensure they understood how to mitigate personal risks when online.

Robbert Van Den Berg echoed Edde’s calls for educational literacy, but also argued that a greater level of research was required into both perpetrators and victims of online sexual abuse. Currently, he argued, that organisations paint a poor picture of what either a victim or a perpetrator looks like, and whilst there are some statistics which are known, such as 95% of paedophiles online are male, there are many others which organisations and government bodies are still unaware of.

Cornelius Williams remarked that it fell to the faith leaders gathered in the room to lead community responses to these issues, and urged religious communities to ensure that they were aware of the risks of online abuse, the channels through which abuse might happen, and the ways that they could help young people to mitigate those risks. Maud de Boer Buquicchio echoed these remarks, stating that young people grow up online and think online. She urged religious communities to ensure that they understood those conversations that are happening online, as it was no longer a valid excuse to argue that if you didn’t understand or use the technology, it was not relevant to you. This was about children, not technology.


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